It was a normal looking park. A walking path cut through fields of grass with trees along the edges. There were benches and picnic tables every now and then. Some kids were tossing around a Frisbee. Others laughed and played. The place had a tranquil atmosphere. Darko liked to go there to think. Sometimes he walked his cat. Today he was with Cynnie.
“I understand what you were saying now,” he said as they walked together along the path. “There’s something about this place; something I’ve never seen before.” He did not know quite how to put it into words. He was wearing a red tee-shirt and jeans. Atop his head was his Packers cap. It did not go with the outfit, but he did not care. No one else seemed to mind either. The hat was a reminder of what had happened three days earlier. He was not ready to let those warm feelings go.
Cynnie smiled at him. Her black hair was pulled into a pony tail. She was wearing a light pink blouse and a hot pink skirt. Her glittery hot pink sandals matched. “Good,” she said. “I told you this place was great.”
Darko nodded. “Show me whatever else you’ve got.”
“Well, there’s not too much more to see.” Her voice had a hint of hesitation in it.
Darko stuffed his hands into his jean pockets. He was not bothered by this statement. “Then I’ll just get to know what I’ve already seen better. Maybe this is a place where I can actually stay.” As long as no one found out about his past. And what were the chances of that? He did not want to think about it. He wanted to enjoy what he had while he had it. Worrying never did anything good for him.
“After all the places you’ve been, Green Bay must seem pretty boring,” Cynnie said whimsically.
“Boring’s not bad,” Darko said. “After all the places I’ve been to, I just want some place stable and secure.”
Cynnie tilted her head to the side slightly. “I guess I can see that.” She shrugged her shoulders. “It’s different for me because I’ve lived here my whole life.”
“And you should consider yourself lucky,” Darko said.
Cynnie’s eyebrows scrunched down into a frown. “I suppose so. Green Bay is great, but…”
Darko raised his eyebrows. “But what?”
Cynnie shook her head. “Never mind.”
Darko stopped walking and turned to face her so that she would stop as well. The look on his face was serious. “But what?”
Cynnie bit her lip. Finally, she sighed. “Ok, I'm kind of tired of Green Bay.”
Darko stared at her. “Tired of it?”
Cynnie gave him a small nod. “Yeah. I’ve seen everything there is to see and done everything there is to do. The only other states I’ve been to are Minnesota and Illinois, and those aren’t much more exciting than Wisconsin.”
Darko glanced down at the ground. He shuffled his feet. “The Midwest is not bad. It’s a good place to live.”
Cynnie let out an exasperated sigh. “I know! But is it good to stay in one place your whole life? I want to go out and explore the world! Or at least the country.” Her face had brightened and she was smiling now. She seemed to be gazing out at something only she could see.
Darko shook his head. “The rest of the country is not that exciting.”
Cynnie frowned. “It has to be better than this. I’m bored here. I want to have a grand adventure. Like you. It must have been so exciting to travel from city to city.” Her eyes danced with energy.
A troubled look crossed Darko’s face. Why was she speaking like this? It made no sense to him. She was just ignorant and naïve. She could not even comprehend the horrors he knew. How was he supposed to show her how good she had it? “It wasn’t,” he said emphatically. “It was terrible. You have an amazing life here in Green Bay. I would give anything to have that.” He could have had it in his small town in the South, but one mistake had deprived him of it.
Cynnie seemed puzzled as she stared at him. “Why would you want my life?” she said in confusion. “Nothing ever happens.”
“And you don’t know what a blessing that is,” Darko said. “Don’t take it for granted. Stay with the people who love you.” His eyes held an emotion to them that he hoped would get through to her.
Cynnie glanced down at the ground. “I love my family, but…” She looked up again, her face saddened. “They’re always around. They try to stop me from doing what I want to do. Maybe some distance would be good for us. Is that not why you left your family?”
A dark shadow crossed Darko’s face and his eyes tightened. “I had no choice when I left my family.”
Cynnie frowned. “Why not?”
Darko shook his head. “It’s not important.” He paused. He needed some way to show her how dangerous her adventurous spirit was. He decided to take a risk. “You should not be too eager to look for excitement. What if you ran into someone you should stay away from?”
Cynnie seemed to consider this. “What kind of criminal? It matters.”
Darko nodded. She was right, of course. Most criminals were not dangerous. He was not one of them, but everyone thought he was. That was not the point of this though. He sucked in a sharp breath before replying. “A sex offender.”
Cynnie stared at him in surprise, her mouth hanging slightly open. She glanced down at the ground and shifted uncomfortably. “Well…”
“They’re the most hated criminals, are they not?” Darko pressed.
Cynnie bit her lip as she looked up at him again. “Yes, well… I’m not stupid, you know. I know which people to stay away from.”
Darko’s eyes tightened ever so slightly. “I see.” That was all he needed to hear.
“I would not hate him or anything,” Cynnie said quickly. She glanced away awkwardly. “I mean, it’s not my right to judge, right? But I have to look out for myself.”
“I know,” Darko said simply. His face was void of any emotion. She was reacting different than most people, but he knew better than to be deceived. She was just trying to be a nice and good person. When she actually encountered the situation he described, she would be just as repelled by him as everyone else. It was probably better for her that way. She did not need to get mixed up with someone like him. So why was he still there?
“Did I say something wrong?” Cynnie asked hesitantly.
Darko shook his head. He had to get away from her. He should never have said anything. He needed to be alone. That was where he was meant to be. “No. I think we should head back now.”
Cynnie frowned, looking at him uncertainly. “Ok.”
“Let’s head back,” Darko said, turning around.
It seemed like he did not want to talk anymore, so she sighed and followed him along the path.
That night, Cynnie found herself pacing her living room floor. Luckily, her parents were off on a date. She did not know how she would explain her odd behavior to them. She could barely make sense of it herself. What was going on with Darko? It seemed like he was hiding something. While she was open about her life, he never wanted to talk about his past. She wondered if there was something he was ashamed of.
It made her sad to think that he believed he could not trust her. She would not judge him. Had she not made that clear? Her brothers bugged him about it all the time. But then she remembered what he had said about criminals and sex offenders specifically… Was he just trying to make sure she was safe?
She did not have time to finish the thought. She turned as she heard someone enter the house. It was John. His expression was very solemn. “Hey,” Cynnie called to him.
John smiled slightly when he turned to face her. “Hey, Cynnie.” There was still a sort of sadness to his eyes that she noticed.
“Is everything fine?” she asked in concern.
“Everything’s great,” John said. “I just got off of work.” He paused. “I was just thinking,” he said slowly. There was uncertainty on his face. “Do you know when Dad and Mom plan to retire?”
Cynnie shrugged. “Beats me. Probably soon. They’ve got enough money to hold them down, and dad is excited to hand over the business to John.”
She noticed the look of pain in his eyes that disappeared a second later. “Oh. Thanks. I was just wondering.”
Cynnie frowned. The two of them were very close. She could tell when he was lying; this was one of those times. She knew how much he loved the shop. She had a sneaking suspicion… “John, you want to run the shop, don’t you?”
John blinked, startled. “What? Me? Where would you get that idea?”
Cynnie gave him a look. “John.”
John let out a heavy sigh. “Fine. Yes, I do.”
“I think you would be a great owner,” Cynnie said. “You’re great at organizing and running things. You’d be much better than Ben.”
John gave her a small smile. “Ben does not even care about running the shop. He just thinks it would be cool. He likes to show off. All he really cares about is sports.”
The arrangement seemed to be perfect. Cynnie smiled. “You should tell Ben and Dad.”
A look of horror suddenly crossed John’s face. “What? No! I can’t do that. Dad would be so disappointed.”
Cynnie rolled her eyes. “Communication is the key to any successful relationship.”
John frowned. “Are you a therapist now?”
Cynnie raised her eyebrows. “Tell him.”
John shook his head. “I can’t. I just can’t. You’ll understand when you’re older. I’ve got to go change. I’ll see you later.” He quickly made his way to his room.
Cynnie frowned as she watched him leave. She did not dwell on him for long. Her mind soon drifted back to Darko. The end of the conversation was still confusing. Uneasiness settled in. Was he trying to send her a message? Did he know of a sex offender living near her?
She knew it was possible to check the residence of sex offenders online. She felt a sudden need to do just that.
Her room was filled with pink, green, and gold. Her bedspread and carpet were pink. On her bed was a teddy bear and a Packers polar bear pillow pet. The walls were decorated with drawings, paintings, and Packers posters. The room was a little messy. It looked very creative but had a sporty look to it as well.
A pink laptop sat in the middle of a messy desk. Cynnie could feel slight trepidation as she sat down and logged onto the internet. She found the Wisconsin Sex Offender Registry and typed in her zip code. She was glad for this useful site. It helped people know who to stay away from.
She scrolled through the disclaimer and the warning not to harass the sex offenders. Why would she want to do that? As long as they stayed away from her, she was fine. They had already paid their price as far as she was concerned. This information was only here to keep the public safe.
She was surprised at how many pages popped up filled with names. Were there really that many in her area? Perhaps Darko had a point. It did not seem like most of them lived near her, though. She checked a few to make sure. She was curious now. She casually glanced through the list of names. She doubted this would help her, but perhaps her subconscious would pick up on something.
She stopped dead when she came across the name Stroud, Darko. She clicked on the name and a rather unappealing picture of her friend appeared.
Cynnie stared at the screen at shock and in horror, unsure of what to do.